One minor Rockies news item before we move on to the Devil Rays-Dodgers trade: Aaron Cook has signed a new two-year contract, one of those arbitration-avoidance specials. Maybe I underestimate the sophistication of the current arbitration rewards system, but I imagine that Colorado has an advantage when it comes to negotiating these sorts of deals with pitchers who remain under their control, since Coors wrecks their basic stat lines. Certainly Cook and Brian Fuentes will be colossal bargains for the next two seasons.
We've noted before that new Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman has been maligned in some circles for emulating the tight-fisted negotiating stance of his illustrious predecessor, Chuck LaMar. This is another reason why the swap of Danys Baez and Lance Carter for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany is a big net positive for the D-Rays. Not only has Friedman landed two very promising candidates to be major league starters, but he's demonstrated to the league at large that he is willing to deal. Carter's just not very good and Baez had one foot out the door already, so it's not as if he's giving much up. The only question is whether more value still could have been exacted for Baez than a former superprospect coming off of two bad years and a very promising lefty with a long way to go.
Well, like the Phish song goes, maybe so, maybe not. Friedman was quoted by Peter Gammons this week (in an ESPN Insider piece) as flat-out admitting, "We cannot buy starting pitchers in the current free-agent market.... To compete we have to find pitching, and trading good players for young pitching is more difficult than imaginable." It's possible that Tampa Bay could have leveraged Baez for a slightly better overall parcel of prospects, but highly doubtful that he could have gotten two potential starters. After the trade the Rays are looking at a front five of Scott Kazmir, Seth McClung, Jackson, Doug Waechter, and Casey Fossum, which is borderline respectable, and only one of those guys (Fossum) is older than I am. Tiffany has a decent chance to be better than all of them. Certainly the bullpen will take a hit, but there's no more ridiculous luxury in baseball than a highly-paid closer on a 70-win team. They're still talking about a Julio Lugo-for-Andy Marte deal, too.
The Devil Rays may not be a whole lot better in 2006, but if they keep stockpiling young pitching talent to complement their hitting prospects, they could totally leave the Orioles in the dust in 2007. Not sure how far beyond fourth place they'll go if the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox keep spending like Emily Gilmore on a bender.